By Edwin Wriston.
The West Virginia National Guard’s Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare Exercise 23-01, co-hosted by the Irregular Warfare Center, wrapped up June 16, 2023, at Camp Dawson, Kingwood, West Virginia.
The nearly two-week long exercise that spanned throughout West Virginia brought more than 420 members of the U.S. military, special operations community, allies and partners from 16 different nations, and observers to provide validation for deploying special forces elements in a dynamic and realistic irregular warfare scenario.
The Department of Defense’s summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy defines irregular warfare as the struggle among state and non-state actors to influence populations and affect legitimacy.
Key components of the exercise concentrated on building long-term interoperability between U.S. and foreign national special operations and conventional forces, enabling mission essential tasks, and assessing readiness while enhancing strategic and operational irregular warfare capabilities.
Participants from Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne); 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne); Bravo Company, 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne); and the United States Marine Corps 193rd Special Operations Group, 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, 4th Civil Affairs Group, and 4th Marine Corps Advisor Company Alpha trained alongside forces from the United Kingdom, Latvia, Lithuania, Polish Territorial Defense Force, Polish GRYF, and Polish JKW.
Observers from Canada, Georgia, Moldova, Qatar, Hungary, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Australia, and the United Kingdom Special Air Service were also present.
“The Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare exercise helps provide critical cross-training and preparation of both special operations and joint forces to conduct irregular warfare activities while deployed into potentially hostile or contested environments,” stated Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General for the West Virginia National Guard. “Today’s complex environment demands we look to this type of realistic training to prepare our forces to combat malign and malicious activities by adversaries and peer competitors.”
He continued, “Our partnership with the IWC is allowing us to expand and enhance the Ridge Runner program to become a premier training venue for domestic and international forces right here in West Virginia all while supporting national security objectives. In addition, we were able to work with other state Adjutants Generals through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program to bring partner and allied forces to train in West Virginia on irregular warfare tasks. ”
During the exercise, participants assimilated into communities throughout West Virginia within two simulated nations spanning the northern and southern portions of the state. Participants met with real-world local government officials, law enforcement and emergency services personnel, and monitored simulated economic and political situations developing in each nation through simulated news casts and media engagements, mirroring procedures and operations they would conduct during actual deployments.
Data collected from these engagements was then used to drive additional training and operational missions sets during the exercise, leading up to culminating missions to counter a simulated invasion by hostile forces from neighboring nations.
“The West Virginia National Guard continues to prove that they are among the best in the world,” said Senator Manchin, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I applaud everyone involved with successfully restarting the Ridge Runner exercise, which develops and executes realistic training environments for irregular warfare across our great state. These simulations are critical to ensuring America and our allies are prepared and ready to handle the destabilizing tactics we’re seeing Russia and China employ through organizations like the Wagner Group. I was proud to secure $4 million through the FY 2023 federal budget to support the Ridge Runner exercise, and I will continue advocating for projects like these that strengthen and defend America’s national security.”
Prior to the actual exercise play, attendees participated in a three-day irregular warfare academics program of instruction through the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU). This academics program provided participants with advanced concepts and doctrine of irregular warfare and emphasized the importance of resistance and resiliency lines of effort to combat current and emerging threats on and off the battlefield.
“The benefit of what the IWC and Ridge Runner brings the knowledge of the non-kinetic skills and base knowledge to operate in an environment that is presenting the greatest non-kinetic threat to freedom around the world,” stated 2nd Lt. Marek Zaluski, Polish Territorial Defense Forces. “Freedom of not only the United States, but also its partners and allies. And that is why as partners we feel it is very important for us to participate in an expanded exercise model which includes academics from JSOU and the IWC. Only as a package does this create a full tool to combat the threat facing the world.”
“The West Virginia National Guard is a proven leader in the U.S. Special Operations community, and for allies and partners seeking expertise in Irregular Warfare. This summer’s Ridge Runner program, completed in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Irregular Warfare Center, shows the strength and leadership of West Virginia authorities across all levels of government and allowed our Special Operators to train in unique settings across the entire state. I look forward to continuing my support for this program, and the training opportunities it provides for our Special Forces to meet some of the most complex threats we might face,” Senator Capito said.
Another key component of the exercise that was developed through the partnership between the West Virginia National Guard and IWC was the inaugural Ridge Healer event. As forces transition to preparing to face a near peer adversary, medical competency and capability must shift to address the needs of the theatre, which includes practicing higher levels of medical care in austere locations with limited supplies and equipment.
This medical-centric exercise was developed to build resilience, resistance, and irregular warfare medical subject matter experts by incorporating the strategic and operational research through academia to tactical practical application. The 193rd Special Operations Medical Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, participated in the exercise to test their capability and capacity to support irregular warfare medical tasks performed in an austere environment.
The efforts of everyone involved in the complete planning and execution portions of the exercise were tremendous and the lessons learned will help to build even better scenarios and training opportunities for future iterations, stated U.S. Army Maj. Mikael Susick, Ridge Runner director.
The IWC and Ridge Runner program will be hosting numerous iterations of large- and small-scale exercises in the year, tailored to fit the needs of participating units. Focus areas will include irregular warfare activities including full-spectrum and multi-domain operations in denied areas, non-standard logistics and clandestine communications in a maritime environment.
This story by Edwin Wriston was first published by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service on June 21, 2023. DVIDS content is in the public domain.
Photo: Participants observe an LOC during Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare Exercise 23-01 in West Virginia. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Seawolf, WV NG, June 15, 2023.